Addison Trail enjoying best season in years

The Addison Trail girls basketball team is relying on a pair of three-year varsity players to their best regular season start in over 15 years.

Seniors Mary Velez and Quiana Birmingham are the backbone of the one of the best Blazer teams in recent decades.

The Blazers (13-6, 6-1 West Suburban Gold) have built off last season's showing, led by the production and leadership of Velez and Birmingham.

"Mary Velez and Quiana Birmingham both have been our go-to players over the last three years," Addison Trail coach Cory Little said. "Whatever I have asked of them they have responded to well. To scoring, playing defense, rebounding, and just being our team leaders, they have done it and have done it well."

"But I have a group of girls who loves sharing the ball on offense. We've had balanced scoring this whole season. Any one of these girls can get going any given night and that's what's so fun about this group."

Point guard Gia Napoli, who leads the team in steals, ignites the offense, while Juliana Nasti's athleticism is an X-factor in close games.

"Juliana is our do-it-all player," Little said. "She's really good at rebounding, and can play defense. Diana Villegas has stepped up this season and done it all from rebounding to scoring to playing post defense. She's become an added bonus to our team."

Montini update:

Montini second-year coach Shannon Spanos has put her own stamp on the program after a roller-coaster first year that dealt with a reduced schedule with no tournaments or playoffs.

The Broncos (11-6, 3-0 GCAC Red) defeated highly ranked Loyola on Dec. 16, and gained a comeback win over Mother McAuley last Thursday. The Broncos trailed by 11 points with four minutes left, but closed out the game with a 16-0 surge.

"That win showed so much about our team and our no-quit attitude," Spanos said. "Montini plays an extremely tough schedule that will continue to prepare us for the tournament. Our losses are against Fremd (by 2 points in OT), Barrington), (by 1 point) Nazareth, Willowbrook, Lyons and Waukesha West in Wisconsin. All of them are great teams that are ranked in the state. We're young, starting two seniors, a junior and two sophomores and a freshman off the bench. We'll continue to work hard to get ready for the tourney."

Junior guard Shannon Blacher tops the team in scoring, leading a balanced attack by averaging 14 points per game. Sophomore guard Victoria Matulevicius at 13 points per game clip, with senior guard Samantha Mogilinski (8 points), senior guard Sawyer White (8 points) and sophomore forward Alyssa Epps (6 points) rounding out the bulk of the scoring. The Broncos are averaging 66% from the free-throw line and 31% on 3-pointers.

"Shannon Blacher is one of the fastest and quickest players you will ever watch with the ball," Spanos said. "Her explosiveness to get to the rim is impressive. On the defensive side Shannon's length, quick feet and quick hands have turned her into a lock down defender. Sawyer White stepped up for our team in a big way on Thursday night against Mother McAuley. She leads our team in rebounds, assists and steals for the season. Her defensive mindset adds so much to our team."

Young Wildcats:

Neuqua Valley is one of the youngest teams in the DuPage County area. The Wildcats (9-8, 0-3 DuPage Valley) start three sophomores, leading to some early season growing pains that might bode well for a strong push in the stretch run.

"We're a young team but I'm impressed by their resiliency and growth so far," Neuqua Valley veteran coach Mike Williams said.

Sophomore point guard Caitlin Washington (14 points per game), sophomore guard Kylee Norkus (11 points, 8 rebounds) and junior center Tia Poulakidas (10.5 points, 8 rebounds) are leading the Wildcats.

"Senior Shannon Gillespie had very minimal time at the varsity level the last three years, but she has stepped up to play a significant role along with sophomore Zoe Navarro," Williams said. "This team is fun, hard working, and I'm looking forward to an exciting second half of the season."

St. Francis on the rebound:

St. Francis coach Jeff Gerdeman hopes his team's last two games were an preview of things to come. The Spartans (11-6, 6-1 Metro Suburban Blue) defeated Rosary and Glenbard South to snap a four-game losing streak.

"These past two games, we have gotten our juice back, especially on the defensive end," he said. "Our defensive efforts, in turn, have helped us jump start our offense. We're also getting balanced contributions from both starters as well as girls coming off the bench. We were building momentum prior to Christmas with a 9-2 record, but had half of our team out during the tough Montini Christmas tournament. After four straight losses, we appear to righted the ship, including knocking off previously unbeaten Rosary in convincing fashion."

Senior captain Katie Anne De Craene is one of the key factors in the Spartans' winning season, averaging 11 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game. Sophomore point guard Dolly Smith is second on the team in scoring (8 points) followed by senior Lauren Bruce (6 points) and junior Katherine Lilly (6 points, 5 rebounds).

Gerdemen said several other players have helped the Spartans during a difficult last few weeks.

"Senior Sara Dziengel has stepped into the starting lineup in place of sophomore Natalie Doyle who is out for the rest of the season with an ACL injury," he said. "Senior Tristan Grosam, junior LeAnn Ringsrud, and sophomore Halle Rubino continue to provide quality minutes off the bench."

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